SaaS Provider Helps Make PETCO's Supply Chain the Cat's Whiskers

By Gary N. Bowen

San Diego, California-based PETCO was in danger of drowning in its own supply chain. One of the largest retailers of pet-related goods and services in the world, PETCO operates over 750 brick-and-mortar stores across the US and boasts a thriving retail Web site that distributes its "pet-friendly" products throughout the world. Combined, both generate net sales of nearly $2 billion annually.

But managing a large and extensive product line to quickly serve owners of everything from Abyssinian cats to Zebra fish is a tall order. "We keep thousands of products stored in our warehouses and need to know where everything is located in real time," says Andrew Ross, PETCOs IS product manager. "It all changes minute to minute."

PETCO was using a Direct-Attached Storage (DAS) data-storage method, a common system that incorporated a small amount of storage into many different company servers. The challenge, according to Ross, was that it didn't allow storage servers to share. He and his fellow executives knew that continuing this practice meant the risk of production and distribution halts, with the companion danger of "keeping hundreds of warehouse workers and dozens of trucks idle."

So, with the help of remote data-storage provider Network Appliance's (Net App) Software-as- a-Service (SaaS) solution, PETCO licked its Storage Area Network supply-chain management challenges faster than Fido can lick his food bowl empty and realized 21st century inventory efficiency.

Dramatic Need for Supply Chain Management Efficiency

Traditionally, PETCO relied on a variety of onsite solutions to manage its enormous supply chain. However, as its retail network grew, PETCO began experiencing problems. Its tape data-storage process was reliable but not up to the minute. If the service center experienced an unexpected outage, hours of data might be lost. Ross added that even if the data was not lost, rewinding tape spools to retrieve data was expensive and time-consuming.

And sadly, internal data mirroring captures the downtime along with the uptime. "If something happens to the primary storage, the secondary storage is probably corrupted as well and the data's gone," adds Ross.

So Net App sprang into action, with its multi-layered SaaS solution; enhancing the performance, availability, and manageability of the warehouse data system that coordinated efforts for its three distribution centers.

The SaaS boutique allows the PETCO platform to achieve true storage efficiency and responsiveness by adding space when and where needed without disruption and risk, while providing administrators the flexibility to adapt quickly and easily to shifting inventory management needs.

For data back-up, the software creates a real-time "picture" of the data, achieving "within minutes" data recovery, according to Ross. This dramatically reduced scheduled downtime and created nearly maintenance-free storage operation. The suite replaces the old internal direct-attached tape back-up storage structure that proved increasingly cumbersome to protect and manage, especially when distribution center transaction rates grew.

"We've basically developed software that allows us to simplify managing stored data," says Rod Matthews, Senior Director of Strategic Marketing at NetApp. "It's easier to deploy and easier to scale."

Tom Georgens, NetApp's Executive Vice President and General Manager, explains the mission behind becoming an SaaS data-management outsourcing provider and what's behind the development of these services. "We're seeing more companies that can no longer meet their inventory recovery times using tape. This is why we want to provide a much better ability to control their data directly through the applications we develop."

Each Flawless Upgrade Done on a Weekend

Ross says after PETCO settled on the NetApp solution, the transition was a breeze. The company began deploying the solution at its first warehouse in August 2005 and was able to complete the installation in less than a day.

"It was virtually seamless," says Ross, who adds the critical need for any new storage installation is that it be done with little or no disruption on the warehouse floor.

"That was part of our true measure of success," he continues. "Warehouse workers didn't notice a thing. They left on Friday, came back Monday, and everything was the same."

Giga Information Group Senior Analyst Jon Erikson notes that the ability to replace many server platforms with one cuts down on staff requirements. Despite an initial learning curve, he notes that "daily maintenance and support would be reduced by 60 percent."

PETCO settled on this solution after first narrowing down the type of storage system that would be most appropriate for its business; deciding, along with its consulting partner, Trace3, on a system that links data storage devices over a network and transfers inventory data in real time via IP connections to the corporate office and all distribution locations simultaneously, many times a day.

"It works very well in our distribution center," says Hanuman Yalamanchi, PETCO's Database Administrator. Ross adds that the solution is highly scalable and "offers the flexibility to adapt quickly and easily to management needs."

"Our large-scale enterprise customers view NetApp as a strategic provider and want us to extend our solutions to help them better manage the complexity of their data-management environments," adds NetApp's Georgens. "Adding these new capabilities allows us to enhance the value we already provide to data centers."

Linda Cohen, a Vice President and Data Industry Analyst at Gartner, knows that onsite data storage and unwieldy backup is going the way of the dodo bird. "We're not going back to a way where everything is done internally. We have already moved on from that."